Celebrating the work of Edgar Wright

News James Hunt 21 Dec 2010 - 10:10

As Scott Pilgrim arrives on DVD and Blu-ray, we celebrate the work of Edgar Wright, from his TV comedies to movie classics like Shaun Of The Dead...

Edgar Wright is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most exciting directors, and one with barely a duff note on his CV. Here, we pick out the biggest moments of his impressive career thus far...

Asylum (1996)

As in “Taking over the...”, Asylum was a comedy series which ran on the Paramount Comedy Channel in 1996, when the UK was still acclimatising to multi-channel television and commissioning original comedy and drama content rather than buying in re-runs.

Although it helped launch the TV career of many well-known comedians and comic actors (and gave Norman Lovett somewhere to go after Red Dwarf) the series’ true contribution to comedy history was to unite its fledgling director – fresh-faced 22-year-old Edgar Wright – with writer/performers Jessica Hynes (nee Stephenson) and Simon Pegg. Their collaborations here would eventually lead to the next major work in Wright’s canon...

Spaced (1999/2001)

In a world where the most prominent group of twenty-somethings on TV were the aspirational, one-dimensional figures of sitcoms like Friends and Cold Feet, Hynes, Pegg and Wright endeavoured to bring to the screen a group of characters who actually acted like they did. Enter their slacker alter-egos, Tim and Daisy, who weren’t worrying about marriage and promotions so much as waking up in time to watch Robot Wars and collecting their dole money.

Although Hynes and Pegg’s scripts offer an insightful, empathetic and funny look at the transition between teenager and adult, it was Wright’s cinematic direction that made the series truly stand out. Spaced looked like no other sitcom – and more often than not, that was because it looked like a movie.

Wright might not have been in front of the camera, but between jump-cuts, flashbacks and directorial references to everything from computer games to horror movies, his contributions (and well-documented perfectionism) helped Spaced become much greater than the sum of its writers and actors.

Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

When Spaced ended, Pegg and Wright returned to screens with a zombie apocalypse movie that showcased their mutual love of George Romero movies in the most genuine way possible – by imitating them. Shaun Of The Dead adheres to (and often subverts) every zombie movie trope established by Romero, and does so with an inherent understanding of what makes the genre tick. Arguably, it (alongside 28 Days Later) helped kick off the zombie explosion that would consume pop culture over the latter half of the decade. Although, you might not want to thank it for that.

Between them, Pegg and Wright created a film with strong, down-to-earth themes at its core, and packed a fantastical, cinematic shell around it. Given the canvas it always deserved, Wright’s direction flourished, and here, he displayed greater ability than ever. As a film, it’s a near-flawless example of its genre – the first (and best) Rom-Zom-Com.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Having given survival horror a uniquely British spin, Wright and Pegg turned their eye on the Hollywood buddy cop movies, asking one question: is it possible to do a Lethal Weapon/Point Break-style action movie set in the UK? The answer: probably not - which is why the results straddle the line between humour and pastiche a little less comfortably than Shaun Of The Dead managed to.

Even so, the film is good at what it does, but with its emphasis on small-town insularity and the very British peculiarities of village policing, it simply can’t grab you by the balls like Shaun Of The Dead could. Timothy Dalton’s fantastic turn as a villain and the hilarious “brawl in a model village” climax notwithstanding, Hot Fuzz’s best moments are when it goes for pure comedy of the mundane, rather than respectful imitation of its predecessors.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

When Bryan Lee O’Malley first released his comicbook about twenty-somethings learning to be adults through a pop-culture filter, the similarities to Spaced – and specifically, the formalist diversions of director Edgar Wright - were apparent to everyone who had read the comic and watched the sitcom. Which is to say, almost no one.

Fast forward a few years, and between the enduring popularity of Shaun Of The Dead, and the growing buzz around Scott Pilgrim, more and more people were catching on. Somehow, the nerd-fantasy became nerd-reality. Not since Sir Captain Picard was cast as Professor Xavier has there been a more perfect, fan-pleasing intersection of comics and film.

The results were spectacular, with Wright combining every ounce of his geeky, reference-loving sensibilities with a pioneering visual approach that brought O’Malley’s work to the screen like no other director would have. Wright also co-authored the script this time, and we got a cast-iron example of just how good he could be away fro his usual collaborators, too. The box office might have been disappointing by the end of the film’s run, but in every way that counted, Scott Pilgrim was an utter triumph, destined for cult status.

Coming Up...

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret Of The Unicorn

Currently in post production and due out next Christmas, Wright was part of the writing team for Tintin, alongside Joe Cornish (best known as the latter half of comedy double-act Adam and Joe) and Steven Moffatt (the man currently shepherding Doctor Who, of course). With Spielberg directing, Peter Jackson producing, and names such as Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis in the cast, it seems to have all of the ingredients for a hit. Except, of course, that it’s about that Belgian detective-boy with weird hair. Can the work of Hergé translate to cinema? Let’s hope so, if only for the sake of Wright’s consistency record.

Ant-Man

Marvel’s tiniest super-hero seems like ideal cinematic fodder, and as Robert Kirkman once showed, the idea is ripe for a comedic interpretation. Also co-written with Joe Cornish, Wright’s draft for an Ant-Man movie has been with Marvel Studios for some time – scripts have reportedly been flying back and forth since as far back as February 2007.

It’s currently unknown whether the film will get made, and whether Wright will even direct it even if it does. But for this comic book geek, just the idea of having Wright and Cornish put their stamp on the Marvel Universe is enough to make me recommend you phone up to book tickets the day filming starts.

The World’s End

When Wright, Pegg and Frost do finally reunite for their third (and final?) attempt to prove that the Brits can do big-budget genre movies as well as the Yanks, the long-awaited third part of the “Blood and Ice Cream trilogy” will feature two things: a Mint Cornetto, and – apparently - the end of the world as we know it.

Details are sparse, but given the title, we can expect a global threat along the lines of 2012 or Armageddon, probably with a bit of Threads thrown in for that extra British touch. Excited? If you’ve learnt anything from this list, it should be that if Edgar Wright is involved, you’d be a fool not care.

See Also:

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 27th December

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